The short: 4/5 ✦. The detailed writing, powerful storytelling, exciting world, and well-developed characters make this novel another win in the Shades of Magic series.
When you read a lot of fantasy books, you get a feel for their beats, the common tropes, the way the narrative is designed to move. Sometimes that predictability is a comfort, an anchor of consistency (see Harry Potter). Sometimes it’s just plain boring — been there, done that!
A Gathering of Shadows isn’t like that. Like its predecessor, it works within the boundaries of standard fantasy but tests them and bends them and makes something entirely new and interesting out of it.
I noted in my review for A Darker Shade of Magic that I was hoping for more magic, and well, I certainly got it. In this book, there’s a tournament dedicated to showcasing magicians, and there’s plenty of magical lead up before that point.
I continue to have grudging respect for Lila. Just when I think she’s being too perfect or too archetypal, Schwab introduces a new element of her character that makes me reexamine all my assumptions. Lila clearly has a destiny, but she’s not the world’s last hope — though she’s one of a kind, to be sure. There’s enough foreshadowing and explanation to prevent one from losing their suspension of disbelief, especially considering, y’know, this takes place in a
world worlds full of magic. Schwab is careful to stay within the rules she created, but it’s still magic and brimming with possibility.
Kell with the awesome coat is probably still my favorite (though the newly introduced Alucard is a close second; I love me a sexy pirate captain), but Kell is suffering from the consequences of his drastic actions at the end of the last book (and so too is Rhy, of course), and there’s a bit more angst going on in the palace and lingering mysteries still to be solved.
I didn’t know that this series was to be a trilogy, but as I neared the last third of the book, I began to be suspicious. It luckily doesn’t feel like a sophomore novel, and barring the ending that leads to the next book, it has a clear beginning, middle, and end and like the first one, can stand effectively on its own.
If you like alternate universes and magic and death and pirates and treachery and multifaceted characters (and a distinct lack of romancey stuff!), then you’ll adore this series. I personally can’t wait for the next one!
Header image: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab, published February 23rd 2016 by Tor Books